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South Bend and Culver
Friday and Saturday, August 15-16, 2008

By Nelson Price

“Fall” is creative license for the overnight (two-day) pilgrimage that twenty-four Pioneers and their guests enjoyed to historic sites and two legendary campuses in South Bend and Culver, Indiana. The trip was August 15-16, earlier than usual for a fall pilgrimage, so tours of the University of Notre Dame and Culver Military Academy could be accommodated before the hectic activity of fall semester classes.

The late summer tour dates also enabled the Pioneers to enjoy a special treat, a cruise around scenic Lake Maxinkuckee aboard The Ledbetter, the three-mast ship used to train Culver cadets to sail.

The trip began in Indianapolis, where the motor coach from Sunrise Tours picked up the Pioneers, guests, and other travelers. En route, pilgrimage chairman Nelson Price commented on famous people and sites associated with South Bend and Culver. The first stop in South Bend was historic Tippecanoe Place, the renovated mansion of Clement Studebaker, eldest of the five brothers who became world renowned for their wagons and, later, their cars.

Built in 1889, Tippecanoe Place is a gourmet restaurant featuring original furnishings and photos of the Studebaker Brothers, the largest employer in South Bend for generations. After a luncheon at Tippecanoe Place and a presentation about its history by the waiter (if requested by patrons, waiters are prepared to make presentations), the Pioneers toured the mansion-turned-restaurant and its grounds. Tippecanoe Place has 40 rooms, 20 fireplaces and intricate woodwork.

The next stop was another stunning historic landmark, the Morris Performing Arts Center in downtown South Bend. It’s a massive, restored vaudeville palace known as the Palace Theater when it opened in 1922. The lavish theater and lobby have fabulous chandeliers, balconies, and frescoes. Much of the theater complex is French in design, patterned after Versailles. (It was built for $1 million in the early 1920s; now its value is estimated at more than $100 million.) After World War II, the theater gradually declined and was headed for the wrecking ball in the late 1950s when Mrs. Morris, a South Bend civic leader, rescued it by buying it and selling it to the city. The Morris has had several renovations since then; today, it is the concert hall of the South Bend Symphony and hosts touring productions as well as concerts by performers such as Tony Bennett.

The Pioneers also toured the magnificent adjacent ballroom, which at one point was in even worse shape than the theater. The ballroom had been the venue for performances by bandleaders such as Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey; during World War II, it became a service center, a USO for returning GIs. It closed in 1969 amid extensive disrepair but reopened after a restoration that began in 2001 and has totaled $6.5 million.

The Pioneers then visited the Northern Indiana Center for History in South Bend, which had a special exhibit featuring fashion design. The center also has a permanent exhibit about legendary Fighting Irish football coach Knute Rockne. While half of the Pioneers toured the Northern Indiana Center for History, the other half toured the mansion of another well-known family, the Olivers. A Scottish immigrant who founded what became the world’s largest plow factory, James Oliver built his Queen Anne-style mansion in 1896 and 1897.

Then, the entire group of Pioneers reunited for self-guided tours through South Bend’s new attraction, the relocated and extensively upgraded Studebaker Museum. The new museum has a vast array of Studebaker products, from wagons and carriages to roadsters, sleighs, and funeral hearses.

Among the eye-catching vintage cars on display is the Studebaker Hawk. The museum’s crown jewel, however, is the Lincoln carriage that transported President and Mrs. Lincoln to Ford’s Theater on the night of his assassination. Built by Studebaker Brothers, the Lincoln carriage was purchased and presented to President Lincoln as a gift by the people of New York City.

After the Studebaker Museum, the Pioneers took a short stop to unload luggage, then rode the motor coach to the small town of New Carlisle, Indiana, for dinner at a historic bed & breakfast. The Inn of the Old Republic in New Carlisle was built in 1861 and faced demolition; it was saved and renovated by the community of New Carlisle, helped by the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana. The Pioneers enjoyed a catered dinner in the B & B, followed by an informal talk by a local preservationist.

Afterward, the Pioneers returned to the overnight lodging spot, the Ivy Court in South Bend. Managed by Pioneer board member Bob Dora of Dora Brothers, the Ivy Court is located across the street from part of the Notre Dame campus.

The next morning, the Pioneers visited Notre Dame for a delightful walking tour. A well-informed tour guide showed off the campus of 1,250 acres and 8,300 students. Sites on the tour included the Alumni Center, the Student Center, and the world-famous Golden Dome on the Administration (Main) Building. The Pioneers toured the interior of the Main Building, which has magnificent artwork and woodwork.

A tour of the Basilica at Notre Dame followed that. The Pioneers initially had been told that the Basilica would be unavailable to visit – three weddings were planned for that day – but the group could be accommodated. The stained glass features were unforgettable.

Next up was another spiritual site: a serene area on campus known as The Grotto where students and faculty go to seek reflection. With its distinctive array of candles, The Grotto was the setting for a pivotal scene in the movie “Rudy”, which was filmed at Notre Dame in 1992.

From Notre Dame,. the Pioneers boarded the motor coach and road to the town of Culver. After lunch at the City Tavern, the group toured Culver Military Academy, the nationally known prep school on Lake Maxinkuckee. According to the Pioneers’ excellent guide – Alan Loehr, Culver’s alumni director and tennis coach – the academy has 792 students, of which 330 are girls. Culver was founded in 1894 as a training school for future world leaders, not military leaders; the school merely uses military-style instructional techniques.

The group toured the chapel at Culver and then learned about its nationally renowned Black Horse Patrol and hockey team. Following that was a rare treat: The Pioneers boarded the Ledbetter, the three-mast ship seldom made available to the general public. The Ledbetter is 60 feet from bow to stern.

As the Pioneers cruised around Lake Maxinkuckuee, the second largest natural lake in the state, Alan Loehr described the family histories associated with spacious homes on the lake. After the cruise, the Pioneers enjoyed a reception at one of the houses, the summer home of civic leader (and lifetime Pioneers member) Richard Ford, who hosted the 2007 Spring Pilgrimage in his hometown of Wabash.

At his Culver home, Mr. Ford oversaw his staff as they served wine and hors d’oeuvres to the Pioneers, who relaxed inside and outside as well as by his pier. The travelers ended their stay in Culver by posing for a group photo on Mr. Ford’s lawn late on Saturday afternoon. Then, the Pioneers re-boarded the motor coach to return to Indianapolis, concluding a memorable two days.